Maggie Alarcón

Posts Tagged ‘The Cuban Five’

A Deal for Alan Gross?

In Alan Gross, CAFE, Cuban 5, Politics on December 14, 2012 at 11:32 am

A prisoner of Cold War politics ponders his fate.


By R.M. Schneiderman

Originally published in The Daily Beast

After Barack Obama emerged victorious from his bruising reelection campaign, perhaps no one—save the president himself—was more relieved than Alan Gross, a 63-year-old development worker serving a 15-year prison sentence in Havana on charges of trying to undermine the Cuban state. Gross, a former Obama campaign volunteer, filled out his absentee ballot from inside the prison hospital where he often passes his time watching Cuban baseball on television. His hope: with the election now over, the U.S. can negotiate with the Cuban government to get him out of prison.

Ever since Gross was arrested three years ago at a Havana hotel, analysts say talks between the two countries have been mired in Cold War politics. From the beginning, the U.S. government has said that Gross was merely trying to improve Internet access for Cuban Jews. In reality, Gross was setting up wireless networks outside the government’s control as part of a provocative program by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Its aim: to promote democracy and weaken the iron grip of the communist state. Taking part in these programs is illegal on the island, yet the Cuban court made bombastic claims, and Gross’s imprisonment has been denounced as “arbitrary” in a U.N. ruling to be released later this month.

Havana disputes the U.N. ruling and is still upset about USAID’s democracy programs, but Cuban officials have reportedly said they know that Gross was not a spy and are willing to work out a deal to let him go. For more than a year now, Havana has been hinting at a tacit trade: Alan Gross for the Cuban Five, a group of intelligence agents imprisoned in the States for conspiracy to commit espionage, mostly on anti-Castro groups in Florida. With the election now behind him, Obama has some leeway, but a deal remains politically tricky. It could become more difficult if Sen. John Kerry joins the cabinet, thereby elevating Sen. Robert Menendez, a Cuba hardliner, to head the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Menendez would have considerable clout in blocking the administration’s efforts to change policy towards Cuba,” said Peter Kornbluh, a Cuba analyst at the National Security Archive, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit.

In the meantime, the Gross family remains frustrated. Last month, they filed a $60 million lawsuit against USAID and Development Alternatives, the firm that hired Gross. The complaint says he received inadequate warning about the dangers of his mission, and lacked proper counterintelligence training to prepare him for dealing with the Cuban police state. USAID would not comment on the lawsuit, and Development Alternatives said it was “disappointed” by it. In the three years since he’s been in jail, the once jovial and portly Gross has lost more than 100 pounds and has become consumed by his captivity. His elderly mother and daughter have developed cancer, and in a letter to Newsweek, Gross said both sides in this Cold War conflict appear to be blowing smoke. “Either way,” he wrote, “smoking is hazardous to my health.”

R.M. Schneiderman is a writer and reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. He has previously worked for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, ESPN the Magazine, and The Tokyo Shimbun.

A Glimmer of Hope Obama, Cuba and United States

In Alan Gross, Blockade, CAFE, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on November 14, 2012 at 11:27 am
 By Benjamin Willis
Originally published in CAFEPROCUBA

Although most progressives would agree that last Tuesday’s elections did little to resolve the overwhelming list of challenges that faces our nation there is a glimmer of hope that the United States is inevitably moving towards a policy of engagement and normalization with Cuba.  Barack Obama and the Democratic party showed that they were able to listen to voices within the Cuban American community crying out for a new stance towards the island of their families and heritage over the din of distorted hysteria projected by the historical Cuban exile community of southern Florida. As a result, Obama took a record amount of the Cuban American votes in Miami-Dade County and Democrat Joe Garcia easily beat the hapless Republican incumbent David Rivera for Florida’s 26th congressional district.

These victories for candidates who have demonstrated a clear intention to work towards a more “normal” policy with Cuba reflect the desire for both political parties to acknowledge the raw statistics of public opinion polls in both Florida and across the United States concerning current policy towards Cuba. For decades voters flocked to Republican politicians who were willing to cozy up to criminals such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles in order to project a hard-line approach. Now, it seems as though the Cuban Americans of Miami are abandoning their blind support for the policy of economic strangulation that is the United States embargo towards Cuba.

Outside of Florida, gains in the senate by Democrats in races that were all but gift-wrapped for the Republicans just three months ago bode well for what will eventually be a long slog through both houses in order to finally dismantle the Helms-Burton Act, the codification of the odious embargo that was universally denounced in the UN this past Tuesday, November 13th.

Obama and his legacy

For the short term, an Obama re-election may be exactly what proponents of engagement with Cuba need. Even though it will take a persistent campaign designed to eventually repeal Helms-Burton there are several things that Obama can do to improve our relations with the island through either executive order or through good old-fashioned diplomacy.

If Obama could have run on his record of pursuing a different policy with Cuba he might have been able to convince even more Americans to vote for him.  In contrast to the empty promises he gave his supporters concerning tackling global-warming, pursuing peace, and rebuilding America’s manufacturing base with “green” jobs, his success at re-drawing the “line in the sand” between the U.S. and Cuba has been a positive step towards redefining America’s policy towards the communist nation.

Obama’s decision to scrap George W. Bush’s policies of allowing Cuban Americans to travel to the island only once every three years was an easy, yet necessary step.  He changed regulations in favor for open travel to the island by Cuban Americans in 2009. Remittances were also allowed to be sent and have helped family members on the island to set up private businesses in Cuba’s nascent mixed economy that has resulted from the economic reforms that the Cuban government has implemented in the past few years.  All of these decisions have been applauded throughout the Cuban American community.  Unfortunately, Cuban Americans have had to defend these inalienable rights, not privileges, because elected politicians from their own community like David Rivera, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Marco Rubio have attacked such actions as “appeasement”.  Their visceral hate for the Castros has been put in front of the rights of their own constituents to be able to reconnect with family members and their own heritage and culture.

Obama not only helped to open travel for Cuban Americans but also re-implemented the “people-to-people” policy in 2011 that allows for special licenses to be granted to any American citizens in order to visit Cuba for academic, cultural, religious, and some commercial endeavors.  Such licenses allow for American citizens to see first-hand the realities of Cuba that often don’t mesh with the spurious claims of Marco Rubio and his cohorts.

When the issuance or renewal of said licenses were halted in August there was a warranted amount of skepticism that this program would not be continued until after the election. Surprisingly, the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Accounts Control (OFAC) began issuing licenses in October. In previous years such a gesture would be seized upon by the Cuban exile community of Miami and magnified into scandalous proportions. This was not the case and Obama obviously reaped the benefits of not kowtowing to such extremists in this election.

Cynics will point out that Obama has disappointed in almost every way possible and that he is not interested in implementing real change in U.S. foreign policy. As far as Cuba is concerned, he may have no choice. This year’s Summit of the America’s the POTUS found out exactly how frustrated the rest of the hemisphere is with this nation, especially in regards to our refusal to recognize Cuba’s rightful participation in the summit. Several nations have vowed to boycott any further summits until the issue of Cuba is addressed. The rest of Latin America looks upon the U.S. with resentment because of decades of imposed colonial imperialism and our continued hostility towards Cuba is just another reminder to all Latin Americans of our continued arrogance and hubris.

Obama and the American political class need to see the writing on the wall. No positive result can come from continually denying Cuba its proper place at the international table.  Engagement with Cuba is simply better business than Uncle Sam’s archaic embargo and Obama is just pragmatic enough to understand this. There are some key issues that need to be addressed and proponents of normalization hope the president acts swiftly.

First, Cuba’s placement on the State Sponsors of Terrorism is unnecessary and Obama could change that.  The designation of Cuba as a country with a profile that fits this description was always dubious. Cuba exported revolution, not terrorism, and it has been almost thirty years since Cuban trained revolutionary forces were inflicting heavy damages on U.S.-backed mercenary forces in Africa, Nicaragua, and other areas of conflict during the Cold War. At no point did these forces use tactics that could be construed as terrorism.

Hardliners point to Cuba’s asylum to members of the FARC and ETA as examples of aiding and abetting terrorists, even though these organizations designation as terrorists obfuscates the truth about either movement. The Basque separatists are actually there at the urging of the Spanish government and the officials of the FARC and Columbian government have agreed to meet for the first formal talks in ten years in La Habana later this week after preliminary talks in Norway in October.

What kind of State Sponsor of Terror nation holds peace negotiations?

Cuba’s continued appearance on this list trivializes the very real threats of terrorism that our nation faces and negates the opportunity for the U.S. and Cuba to cooperate on important matters of regional security that correspond to both nations.

Secondly, Obama could dramatically open up diplomatic ties between the two countries.  Two major cases have been obstacles that have stood in the way of progress between the two nations.

One is Alan Gross. The other is the Cuban five.

While there are calls for a direct exchange between the two parties for these prisoners the best course of action would be to solve either case according to its own merits.  In both cases an increased amount of diplomacy will be needed and Obama could order a high level official to meet with representatives of the Cuban government in order to facilitate some end to the impasse that these cases have caused. Until now, Senators, congressmen, and civil servants with years of negotiating, like Bill Richardson, have been sent to La Habana. It’s time for the Secretary of State, whomever that may be, to make a historical trip and see if they can earn their paycheck.

This past week it was announced that Obama would be visiting Myanmar. The list of human rights abuses by the leaders of that nation makes Cuba look like Sweden. There is no excuse for not reaching out to a country like Cuba if we are planning on forgiving Myanmar for its sins long enough to visit them.

Thirdly, a broader interpretation of “people-to-people” licenses will be the best way for Americans to see for themselves that we have nothing to fear from the Cubans and everything to gain from a reciprocal relation with the island. The travel ban, or more precisely, the violation of the fundamental constitutional right of Americans to travel, is something that the president can ease if not completely do away with.  Cuba has recently made bold reforms in immigration laws that were designed to avoid “brain drain” during the Cold War. Gone are the requisite for an exit visa and other laws that made leaving Cuba almost impossible. Now, the only restriction for travel is that of the United States towards its own citizens.

These steps could help in the battle to eventually bring about real change. The exceedingly low-hanging fruit that Cuba represents would be easy to pick for Obama and would do wonders for a president seeking to try and secure his legacy. Presidential first terms are all about getting re-elected. Second terms are about leaving something behind that people will remember you by.

Miami’s Changing of the Guard

Exit polling in Miami-Dade County illustrates how the tide is turning in Cuban American political affiliation. Obama nearly split the votes with Romney among Cuban Americans across the county by taking between 48% and 53% (depending on which poll you want to believe) of the votes.  This is a monumental gain since 2000 when Bush carried over 75% of the Cuban American vote in Miami-Dade.

Joe Garcia’s election speaks volumes as to how the demographics of Cuban Americans, especially in Miami, are changing. This turning of the tide can be attributed to many factors but, most importantly, it appears as though Cuban Americans who have arrived since the Mariel boatlift are becoming increasingly involved in the political process. While most of the Cubans who arrived shortly after the revolution consider themselves political refugees, the newer generations often had to leave because of economic reasons.  These newcomers lived in Cuba during both good times and bad and are unwilling to accept the hardliners positions which are often articulated out of fear, ignorance, and loathing. The recalcitrant old-timers have had years to intimidate anybody who even suggested that Cuba should be spoken about in a respectful, positive manner. Their message is that of hysteria, hatred, and that killing innocents is perfectly acceptable. Hopefully, their time of controlling the narrative has come to an end.

The largest impediment for normalizing relations with Cuba has always been Miami Cubans.  It was ludicrous for any presidential to criticize our backward policy towards the island because it was thought that such a mistake would cost him the all important electoral votes of the “swing state” of Florida. If the Cuban American community can prove that it is indeed a diverse group of ideas and opinions and that the majority does not support the embargo and our retrograde position towards Cuba then politicians will be able to express what they truly feel about such a policy without the fear of a backlash that could sink their campaign.

It should be said that Garcia was president of the Cuban American National Foundation, an organization that has lobbied for the embargo and for strict measures against the Castro government. He is not anti-embargo, per se, but he has taken a positive stance on travel and remittances to the island and has challenged the status quo on bringing about change in Cuba. His maturation on several issues reflects the Cuban American community’s evolving stance on the same issues.

Regardless of his positions on the minute details of our policy with the island his election is part of a monumental sea change that is happening in Miami that is bigger than him or his electoral victory. Hopefully, he will provide a counterbalance to the Cuban American congressional cabal that lost a congressman but gained a senator in Ted Cruz from Texas.

Gaining ground

Last Tuesday’s elections proved to be a massive failure for the Republicans. Mitt Romney may never have had more then a puncher’s chance at gaining the white house but his party seemed poised to take a majority in the Senate. However, the American public decided that candidates who understand rape to be “God’s way” of ensuring that the human race procreate should not be given the task of making important decisions that affect the entire nation. Victories by Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin were unexpected but welcome to those who wish this country to make serious changes towards adopting reasonable policies for working class people. Hopefully, they will have a more intelligent stance on foreign policy as well.

For proponents of engagement with Cuba it is understood that in order to repeal the Helms-Burton Act there will have to be a concerted effort to win votes in the House and prevent a filibuster in the Senate by either Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez, and possibly by newcomer Ted Cruz. The fact that the Democrats gained seats instead of losing their majority is crucial in the long term.

Another gain in the Senate was that of Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Flake has been a vocal opponent of the embargo and has spoken out against our policy from Cuba. In order to repeal the embargo it will be necessary for Republicans to be on board. Flake’s election is a victory for change in U.S.-Cuba policy.

Finally, another event has happened that will be beneficial for those wanting change with Cuba. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the representative of Florida’s 18th congressional district in Miami, has reached her term limit for serving as the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Congress may not have term limits but at least committee appointments do and her position of chair on that committee always ensured that any discussion about Cuba would be tabled.  Ros-Lehtinen, known in Cuba as la loba feroz (the big, bad wolf), has proved to be one of the most reactionary politicians within the Cuban American congressional cabal regarding Cuba and her relinquishing of that post may allow for more discussion and dialogue for engagement and normalization.


The whole world is against us………literally.

Yesterday marked the 21st annual vote by the United Nations to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba. What started out as an attempt to rebuke the U.S. for its policy of economic strangulation of the island has turned into an yearly denouncement by the entire planet.

The final vote was an almost universal drubbing of the United States’ embarrassing policy: 188-3 with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstaining.

Of course, the U.S. was supported, as always, by Israel. The perennial random Pacific island nation that chose to hitch its wagons to unwavering imperialism this year was Palau. Makes you wonder if the FBI has some emails of Palau’s president.

It is ironic that even though Israel does not denounce the embargo it still allows its citizens to travel to Cuba freely. For a nation so paranoid about terrorism this seems to be a curious stance. Do they know something that Washington doesn’t?

The usual suspects within the supine American and worldwide media morass decide to just go with the AP story. ABC, CBS, FOXNEWS, the CBC, SkyNews and countless other news regurgitation webbies ran the same story which quoted Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, as saying that the embargo was “inhumane, failed and anachronistic.”  He continued by saying that perpetuating the policy was “not in the national interest of the United States. Quite the contrary, it harms the interests of its citizens and companies- especially in times of economic crisis and high unemployment.”

The main reason why so many “news” organizations ran this story was because it had the obligatory quote from a U.S. senior official defending this albatross around the neck of U.S. foreign policy as “one of the tools in our overall efforts to encourage respect for the human rights and basic freedoms to which the United Nations is committed.”

This after that same body unanimously decried the implementation of this “tool”. How can the US remain so tone deaf?

Here is what some of our partners, allies, and adversaries have said about this “tool” in the UN’s official press release of General Assembly 11311:

            “MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that the embargo against Cuba contravened the fundamental norms of international law, international humanitarian law, the United Nations Charter and the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among States.  Furthermore, its continued imposition violated the principles of the sovereign equality of States and of non-intervention and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs.”

Joseph Goddard of Barbados represented the Caribbean community (CARICOM) and stressed Cuba’s camaraderie with member States and articulated the importance of “mutually beneficial programmes of cooperation and trade in several key areas including physical education and sports, accounting, natural sciences, humanities, economy, special education, health and medicine.”

“OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile) said on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that the commercial, economic and financial embargo imposed on Cuba was contrary to the letter, spirit, principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter and international law.  The Community was concerned about the extraterritorial effects of the embargo that affected the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction and the freedom of trade and navigation.”

“MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil), speaking on behalf of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said that the Group had been founded on the principles of interdependence and good neighbourly relations.  Alongside its Latin American neighbours, MERCOSUR showed respect for the sovereignty of States and for international law, and it viewed that the embargo ran contrary to the principles of the Unite Nations Charter and international law.  In particular, she said, it violated the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other States.  The embargo also ran contrary to the principles of justice and human rights, limited and delayed social and economic progress and inhibited the achievement of the Millennium Goals and other development targets.“

These were just a few of the statements issued by a number of subgroups within the UN. Once again, the entire world took a moment to make it perfectly clear to the United States that the embargo is completely unfair and deleterious to the Cuban people while becoming more and more counterproductive for U.S. citizens.  Obama could do himself and his legacy a favor if he would just stop and listen to what the international community is urging him and the United States to do- abandon the embargo and allow Cuba make its own future without further interference.

(An earlier version of this article was published in Counterpunch digital magazine at

Benjamin Willis is a musician who lives in Queens. He is a founding member of CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement). Contact him at


Lets live and let live

In Alan Gross, Asamblea Nacional/National Assembly, CAFE, Cuba, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, History, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on July 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Therein lies the beauty of reconciliation: the balance it creates…

By Alina M. Lopez Marin

Originally posted on CAFE (Cuban Americans For Engagement)

When my parents came to the states they realized that they would not be returning to Cuba again. They were very disillusioned by their forced exit from Cuba and with the exiles.  They knew very early on that they would not live to return to the island.  They were not resentful, as we did not lose any property or wealth. My mother was hurt by her inability to return to see her father before he died or after. My maternal grandmother came to the states in 1966 and moved to Miami shortly after living with my parents for a year.

While at the University of Maryland Baltimore Campus, I became a founding member of an offshoot of the Democratic Party. We campaigned against an incumbent and successfully installed the first Black congressman in Maryland, Parren Mitchell. Mitchell would openly say that he won his first election thanks to the white kids from Catonsville. He won by 35 votes. A few students at UMBC made a bit of history. Two of that group went on to win elected offices in Maryland.

Upon graduation from college I was recruited to apply for an investigator position with the federal government and became subject to the Hatch Act, a law that at that time prevented speech by civil servants related to political candidates. So I was apolitical till I left the federal government and went to work for the state of California in an appointed position in 1983. My naiveté regarding politics had a rude shock and I learned more about the ruthlessness of politics in 3 years than I had learned in all the years before during my life.

My mother died in 1985. I was not present when she died from cancer and her death took a toll on me. I fell into a depression, which kept me from working from 1986 till 1989. I returned to work for the state as a Deputy Labor Commissioner, and retired in 2000. At that time I left California for two years and returned to work for the federal government till my retirement in 2010.

My parents had taught me to stay away from the politics in Miami and throughout that time and I did not discuss politics while visiting relatives in Miami.

When I learned that my grandmother had fallen ill with cancer in the late 70s I spent a week with her and had a chance to talk to her about so many things. What I recalled the most was her surprising statement to me that she had regretted leaving Cuba. I had always admired my grandmother and her statement kept me wondering.

In 2008 I vacationed in Belize and on my return to Miami airport I flew over Cuba. I flew over Guanahacabibes, Pinar del Rio. The land called to me. There was no doubt that there was a special magnet that I felt while flying over my island of birth. Upon my return, right after the election of Barack Obama, I began to read everything that I could find about the current politics and life in the island.

I found out about the Cuban 5, about Alberto Coll: The Cuban 5 are 5 men who are Cuban agents who infiltrated the Brothers to Rescue group before its demise caused by Jose Basulto. Their purpose was to monitor exile activity to prevent acts of terrorism against the island. I learned about the actors of terrorism against the island, the Remolcador incident in Cuba. The shoot down of the Brothers to the Rescue, Helms Burton, Clintons politics toward Cuba, the politics surrounding the Elian Gonzalez incident, etc. Etc.

I felt so ashamed that I had not been paying attention to the mess created by a few. I felt ashamed that Alberto Coll had been so maligned and persecuted because he changed his mind about the effectiveness of the embargo. I felt ashamed that five men who truly cared about the welfare of Cubans had risked their lives to protect them and that all we did was shoot the messenger. All this took place while some people who are true mercenaries on both sides had done everything possible to hurt Cubans, just because they are not simpatico to their cause. I became aware of the sinister politics that has dominated the past 53 years and what an utter failure these politics had wreaked on all of us and most importantly on the 11000000 Cubans in the island.

My awareness deepened by my correspondence with Gerardo Hernandez, the head Avispa of the Cuban 5, who has a jail term of two lives and 15 years, a medieval sentence imposed out of fear and loathing, rather than true righteous indignation for a crime. Our correspondence has made me aware how little Cubans know of us, exiles and how little I knew of life in the island since I left. Gerardo thought that my mother must have been a terrorist. Imagine that.  Our ensuing friendship made clear to me that we need to communicate like normal caring folk rather than continue to allow the hate and vengeance that has been foisted upon us by the congressmen of South Florida and seconded by the congressmen of New Jersey who allege to represent the Cuban American community. They really do not represent us and all they do is give us a bad name in the United States and the rest of the world. Lets leave the generation of hate behind with our parent’s generations and that of the Castros.  We do not have to agree on everything to communicate. All we have to do is respect each other’s nations sovereignty, our right to think for ourselves and move on.

Lets travel, learn from one another; Lets live and let live.

Las turbulentas aguas del estrecho de Florida

In Alan Gross, Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Embargo, Politics, US on June 28, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Inspirado en la Divina Comedia de Dante, el Pensador de Rodin parece estar “pensando” como entender el enrredo entre Cuba y EEUU…

Por Rafael Chacón

Tomado de Cartas desde Cuba 

Estados Unidos se queja porque el sistema bancario de Cuba no es trasparente y eso habría permitido que unos cubanos -refugiados de “la persecución comunista”- estafen al sistema de salud y saquen el dinero a través de un banco extranjero que también opera en la isla.

Es sorprendente que Washington le pida a Cuba trasparencia bancaria a pocos días de sancionar a un banco holandés por hacer negocios con La Habana. Antes ya habían castigado a otro suizo y, si no recuerdo mal, también a uno de la lejana Australia.

Pero parece que andar persiguiendo los negocios de la isla por todo el mundo los agota y quieren simplificar las cosas: el Banco Central de Cuba debe trasparentar todas sus actividades para que a ellos les resulte más sencillo castigar a los socios financieros de la isla.

Mal vista esa propuesta de trasparencia bancaria puede parecer hasta tonta, sin embargo, vista desde el optimismo -mucho optimismo- podría ser el primer paso hacia un acuerdo de colaboración bilateral en la lucha contra el lavado de dinero.

Si las autoridades estadounidenses están tan interesadas en perseguir ese delito tienen la opción de comprometerse a cesar la persecución financiera mundial de Cuba y, entonces sí, solicitar a este país que siga las normas internacionales de trasparencia bancaria.

Claro que La Habana se lo va a pensar muy bien, no sea que les ocurra como cuando comunicaron al FBI sobre las acciones violentas que se fraguaban en el exilio de Miami y al final sirvió para que capturaran a los agentes cubanos que consiguieron la información.

Sus juicios estuvieron tan viciados que Gabriela Knaul, relatora de la ONU sobre la independencia de jueces y abogados, acaba de expresar a Washington su preocupación por el proceso judicial contra los 5 cubanos encarcelados en EE.UU. por conspiración para cometer espionaje.

La ingenuidad de Cuba con el FBI los llevó a la cárcel. Cuatro de ellos aún permanecen en prisión y el quinto está en libertad vigilada en Miami.

Y parece que no habrá cambios en su situación legal, La Casa Blanca rechaza la oferta cubana de liberar a los 5 a cambio de Alan Gross.

Washington asegura que ellos son espías y Alan solo es un inocente “contratista”. Es verdad que trabajaba por “contrato” pero al servicio del gobierno de EE.UU. y contrabandeando a Cuba equipos de comunicación tan sofisticados que algunos solo los usa la CIA y el Pentágono.

En la negociación para liberar a Gross EE.UU. apostó todo el tiempo a “caballo ganador” porque conocían de antemano cada intención cubana. Sin embargo, desde hace unos meses perdieron sus ojos y oídos y la reacción parece ser dar palos de ciego.

Un buen ejemplo son las declaraciones de la Secretaria de Estado Hilary Clinton, anunciando que intensificará el programa de desarrollo de comunicaciones clandestinas en Cuba, lo cual es un golpe a las esperanzas de una salida humanitaria para Gross y su familia.

Para evitar más estadounidenses presos, ahora intentarán extender internet a partir de equipos que se venden en las tiendas cubanas. Es difícil que tengan éxito, salvo que sus objetivos reales sean que La Habana limite más el uso de las nuevas tecnologías y reprima a la ciberoposición.

Porque hay una evidente contradicción entre una Hilary Clinton que pretende promover internet en la isla y su colegas del Departamento del Tesoro, que ordenan a Google prohibir a todos los cubanos el uso de algunas de sus herramientas.

Y no hay la menor duda, Christine Chen, gerente de Comunicaciones Globales y Asuntos Públicos de Google lo dejó muy claro: “tenemos que cumplir con las políticas del Departamento del Tesoro (…) no se puede usar Google Analytics en los países sometidos a embargos”.

Washington carga así las armas de los inmovilistas de esta orilla. La censura de Google y los millones de dólares regalados por Hilary a la ciberdisidencia son la justificación perfecta para que algunos propongan nuevas restricciones “que nos permitan enfrentar esta agresión imperialista”.

Ahora les resultará mucho más sencillo justificar la censura y la existencia misma del Ministerio del Silencio, limitar el acceso de los ciudadanos a internet, mantener en secreto el destino del cable submarino y declarar hostil a todo el que no les sea incondicional en la red.

Cuando llegué a la isla, Victorio Copa -un colega muy cubano a pesar del nombre- me dio un sabio consejo: “si quieres entender lo que sucede en Cuba estudia sus relaciones con EE.UU. porque casi nada de lo que ocurre es ajeno a ese conflicto centenario”.

Alan Gross vs. the Cuban Five?

In Alan Gross, CAFE, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Israel, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on May 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm

May 23, 2012 – Ron  Kampeas,  Jewish Telegraphic Agency


From The Jewish Exponent

Advocates for Alan Gross, who is serving prison time in Cuba, say that talk of a trade for five Cuban spies is a non-starter. But they acknowledge hopes that the Obama administration will consider lower-level concessions in exchange for Cuban considerations for the jailed American.

Insiders say that Gross’ advocates want the U.S. government to consider, among other things, more family visits for the “Cuban Five,” agents who were arrested in 1998 and convicted in 2001 on espionage-related charges, and the permanent return home for the one among them who is now out of jail and serving probation.

The Cuban government recently came closer than ever to making explicit that the fate of the Cuban Five factors into its considerations of whether to release Gross, the State Department contractor who was convicted on charges stemming from his efforts to connect Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet.

Gross, who is Jewish and from Potomoc, Md., was arrested in 2009 and sentenced last year to 15 years.

“We have made clear to the U.S. government that we are ready to have a negotiation in order to try and find a solution, a humanitarian solution to Mr. Gross’ case on a reciprocal basis,” Josefina Vidal, the top official in the Cuban Foreign Ministry handling North America, said in a May 10 interview on CNN.

Vidal would not offer specifics, but prompted by interviewer Wolf Blitzer, she said the Cuban Five were a concern. “Cuba has legitimate concerns, humanitarian concerns related to the situation of the Cuban Five,” she said.

The State Department immediately rejected such reciprocity. “There is no equivalence between these situations,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said in remarks to the media the day after the interview. “On the one hand, you have convicted spies in the United States, and on the other hand, you have an assistance worker who should never have been locked up in the first place. So we are not contemplating any release of the Cuban Five, and we are not contemplating any trade.

“The continuing imprisonment of Alan Gross is deplorable, it is wrong, and it’s an affront to human decency. And the Cuban government needs to do the right thing,” she said.

On background, a source apprised of the dealings among Gross’ advocates, the U.S. government and the Cubans says that Gross’ advocates are willing to press for visits by the wives of two of the Cuban Five, Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez. The United States has refused visas multiple times for the women, and Amnesty International has taken up their cause.

Another possible “give,” according to the source: a permanent return to Cuba for Gonzalez, who is out of jail and serving probation in the Miami area. It’s not clear what the Cubans would offer in return for such concessions, but it is likely they would draw protests from the Cuban-American community, including among stalwart pro-Israel lawmakers, such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the powerful chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, who has rejected any leniency for the Cuban Five.

Ronald Halber, who heads the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and has directed much of the national activism on Gross’ behalf, said he understands the “intensity” of the Cuban-American community’s response, but said that Obama also should take into account the national interest.

“I do not believe that U.S. policy to Cuba can be held hostage by the Cuban community in Miami,” he said. “It’s American national interests that are at stake. They should be part of the conversation, I understand the intensity, although this intensity is more among the older generation, not the younger generation. Our government has to do what is in our interests.”

Gross’ family and his advocates in the organized Jewish community emphasize their agreement with Nuland’s premise: There is no equivalency between a contractor installing and training others in the use of communications equipment and five spies believed to be instrumental in the 1996 shooting of two small aircraft leafleting Cuba with pro-democracy messages, resulting in the deaths of four Cuban-American activists.

Three of the five were sentenced to life and one to 19 years. Gonzalez, sentenced to 15 years, was released last year on a three-year probation.

“We’re not in a position to negotiate that and I don’t think the U.S. government is inclined to do so,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the community’s foreign policy umbrella.

Instead, he said, “we are continuing to press the case in various fora directly and indirectly.”

That included the Presidents Conference’s recent requests that Pope Benedict XVI raise Gross’ plight during his March trip to Cuba.

Gross, who is held in a medical facility, has been visited by family, friends and Jewish leaders. He is allowed weekly calls to the United States.

Most recently he spoke with leaders of the JCRC of Greater Washington to thank them for leading U.S. advocacy on his behalf.

Gross, his family and his advocates want him to make a two-week visit to his 90-year-old mother, who is dying of cancer in Texas, after which he has pledged he will return to Cuba.

His family had voiced support for allowing Gonzalez to return home for two weeks to visit his brother. Gonzalez made the visit in March and has since returned.

Vidal said the two concessions were not equivalent.

“The cases of Mr. Gross and Mr. Rene Gonzalez, I have to tell you, are different,” she told CNN. “First, Mr. Rene Gonzalez, who is one of the Cuban Five, he served completely his term until the last day. Rene Gonzalez was not detained and was not imprisoned for attempting against U.S. national security.”

Those are the charges against Gross; Cuba says the Cuban Five were guilty only of spying on groups it considers as extremist and not on the U.S. government.

Cuba maintains that Gross’ activity on behalf of the Jewish community was a cover for installing sophisticated communications equipment. Gross has said the equipment is freely available in U.S. electronic goods outlets and online.

Halber of the Washington JCRC noted a new openness to Cuba under the Obama administration, which has facilitated travel between the two countries. President Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, is attending a conference this week in San Francisco.

Halber said the primary fault lies with the Cuban government for attempting to leverage Gross’ freedom to secure concessions for the Cuban Five.

“He is a man who is being used as a hostage, who is being used as a pawn,” Halber said. “The Cubans are using a man as a bargaining chip to get back five correctly convicted folks who committed crimes on U.S. soil.”

Official: Cuba ready to talk about Gross case

In Alan Gross, Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Politics, US on May 14, 2012 at 9:47 am


By Portia Siegelbaum

(CBS News) HAVANA – The Cuban government got a rare opportunity to put its position on a U.S. contractor jailed in Havana and on hostile U.S.-Cuba relations before an American audience Thursday when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed a top Foreign Ministry official.

Josefina Vidal, via satellite from Havana, said that while Cuba is ready to dialogue with the U.S. about the case of Alan Gross they are not advancing any formula, such as a prisoner swap. Instead, the head of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s North America Division declared Havana wants to sit down at the negotiating table with Washington to discuss all outstanding issues in an effort to establish normal relations.

Vidal says that the U.S. demand that Cuba release Gross before it takes any steps to improve relations with the island is just a “pretext” not to do so.

The State Department reacted sharply, saying Vidal’s statements only reinforce the U.S. belief that Gross is being held hostage and that there is no justification for his imprisonment.

There hasn’t been diplomatic relations between the two countries for five decades, although ever since the Carter presidency they have maintained Interests Sections in each other’s capitals.

Vidal was echoing the position laid out in an official letter sent to Blitzer earlier this week, saying Havana has offered to hold a “dialogue to find a humanitarian solution…on a reciprocal basis” to the case of Gross, sentenced to 15 years on charges of trying to subvert the government.

That offer provoked speculation that the Cubans were holding out to swap Gross for five Cuban imprisoned in the U.S. on spying charges for nearly 14 years. Cuba says the men were only seeking information that would help prevent terrorist actions against the island and not U.S. government secrets.

The Gross family has been agitating the media to cover the story and Gross used one of his weekly calls to his family to dial in to Blitzer’s show, “The Situation Room.” In their conversation broadcast May 4 Gross describes himself as a “hostage.”

Jorge Bolanos, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, took umbrage with the way Blitzer and Gross presented the case. A copy of the letter he sent to Blitzer last Tuesday was given to CBS by a Foreign Ministry official. In it, Bolanos insists it is incorrect to say Gross came to Cuba to help the Jewish community connect to the Internet, as claimed by the U.S. State Department. Instead he says Gross concealed from those he met here that he worked for the U.S. government and that he was a paid professional who was “implementing a U.S. government program” aimed at subverting the legal Cuban government.

In an interview with a local CBS station in Baltimore, Gross’ wife, Judy, said, “We know now that he did break Cuban law. He did not know that until he got to Cuba and was arrested.”

However, leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal that Gross sent messages from Havana in 2009 expressing concern that he could be arrested and that he knew his task for USAID was risky.

The letter from Bolanos refers to Gross’ “undercover activities” as constituting “crimes in many countries, including in United States.”

Vidal, speaking in English, stuck to the same points outlined in that letter.

However, the Cuban media is reporting on her statements to CNN in Spanish in which she says that Havana is disappointed with the lack of improvement in relations since Obama took office. They had higher expectations, according to Vidal. According to the local media, she admitted President Obama has taken some positive steps but stressed that Washington’s basic hostile policy toward Cuba remains unchanged.

President Raul Castro has expressed the same opinion on several public occasions
over the past year, noting that the U.S. has made only cosmetic changes in its relations with Cuba by somewhat relaxing its restrictions on travel to the island, but he stressed that nothing has been done to ease the more than five decades-old economic and trade embargo of the island.

Gross has served more than two years of a 15-year sentence. His wife has given very few interviews since his arrest, but she told CBS affiliate WJZ this week that she fears for his health and worries that he will never come home.

The Cubans have allowed his wife and a string of political and religious figures to visit Gross in the Havana military hospital where he is being held rather than in a common prison.

Despite this week’s rash of publicity there is no evidence of any movement in the case.

A Texan’s Take on Cuba’s Oil Drilling

In Alan Gross, Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Embargo, Economics, Politics, US on February 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm


By Graham Sowa

Version en español

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 28 — The behemoth oil platform came into view from the Havana shoreline last week and I’m still trying to figure out what Cubans feel about its arrival.  The last oil drilling platform to make news here was during the British Petroleum disaster and rumors of sludgy hydrocarbons washing up on the Varadero.

Thus my expectation was that the conversations would quickly take on environmental themes in addition to economic and political speculation.

As usual Cubans are very knowledgeable about the official published facts.  But other than the banal recitation of what I already read in Granma and on Cuba Debate’s Facebook page my conversations about the oil platform do not drill deeply into opinion or speculation.

Maybe this is because I am a Texan, and I am used to talking about oil, natural gas, pipelines, and offshore oil rigs when the opportunity arises.  Texas is synonymous with cowboys and oil.

These popular images of my home state are best amalgamated by the image of a cowboy, arm slung up in the air, hat in hand, as he “rides” an oil pump.  YEEEEEE-HAWWWWWW!!!!!

Long before “Texas Tea” was made famous in my generation by DJ Screw and Three 6 Mafia (their “tea” consisted of codeine, promethazine, Sprite and Jolly Ranchers for taste) the term was an internationally recognized metaphor used to describe oil.

Just as oil composes multitudes of noticed and unnoticed products we daily invite into our lives we often compose our discourse around oil.  The debates center over where to drill for oil, who can drill for oil, what kind of methods they can deploy to do so.  These debates can last for decades without resolution.

A case to make my point is the proposal to drill for oil the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.  I’m sure that the gross amount of energy we have expended arguing for or against this proposal now exceeds the potential pollution (or amount of oil) that would have been incurred (or found) had drilling taken place.

But whatever the risk from oceanic drilling; not many people are wasting their breath in Cuba.

The economic discussion has also been coming up empty, but this has not hindered my opinion making abilities on the matter.

I find the Cuban approach to allowing oil exploration strangely free market.  Yes, there is a 50% tax on what is taken out of the ground.  But apart from that tax the oil companies have been leasing plots of seafloor and they are expected to absorb all costs of exploration and development of the wells.

Is Cuba hoping that competition for getting here first will drive quicker development of the wells, and therefore more tax revenue?  That would be an admission that market forces, in this instance, are preferable.

To my knowledge the oil exploration in Cuba, unlike the United States, is not subsidized directly or indirectly by government spending and concessions.  The United States occupies the Socialist camp when comparing Cuba to the United States in terms of their economic relationships with oil companies.

And even if the new Cuban offshore well comes up dry at least there is a possibility that bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States improved with the arrival of the platform.

The United States Treasury Department allowed permits to companies that sell oil cleaning supplies in services in the eventuality of a spill.  And Cuba allowed the United States to inspect the Repsol purchased and Chinese built platform to make sure it complied with the U.S. embargo on Cuba.  These are meaningful changes.

But I wonder how the same free market orthodox economists who abhor regulation, but also support the United States embargo against Cuba, reconcile their ideologies?

From their point of view I find the scene of U.S. regulators inspecting a Spanish bought and Chinese built oil platform in waters that are not our own incredibly ironic.

Irony or not, it is good to see that petroleum prospecting can do even what a prisoner swap of Alan Gross for the Cuban 5 could not:  bring the two nations in agreement over something.

In such uncertain times it is comforting to know where the common ground can be found:  below the surface of the waters that divide us.


About the author:

Graham Sowa: I am about to complete my third year living away from my home (Grapevine, Texas, USA) and my first of six years living in Cuba. My enrollment in the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) has begun a major change in my adventure in obtaining an education. I enjoy listening to insightful stories and well-formed opinions; similarly, I enjoy the opportunity to share mine. I am consistently amazed at how little material and social culture separates me from my peers, no matter where they hail from. My current hobbies include reading, fishing and debate.